Freemasonry is a system of age-old knowledge handed down primarily through the language of symbolism, and a part of the vocabulary of symbolism that is most significant is that of color. Color saturates our entire experience, and can be quite easy to take for granted, or simply see as a case of happenstance. This or that object simply “happens” to be this or that color, and while it certainly has aesthetic effects, this is more or less the scope of it’s significance, as people normally think.
Yet anyone who has spent time learning the language of symbolism, whether in the context of Masonry, the interpretation of dreams, or analysis of art and fiction will know that color carries enormous symbolic significance. To dream of a blue boat can be quite different in meaning than to dream of a red boat, and the same principle applies to any dream symbol and it’s color. As a body of knowledge communicated in the same language of symbol as dreams, the arts, or religious mythology, color in the Masonic Lodge is likewise an essential layer of meaning for the Initiate.
So, what is the meaning of colors in the language of symbolism in general, and to Masons specifically?
Color of darkness, the endless expanse of space, the depths of the Earth, and absence of light. Black is first and foremost the unknown, as it is literally what is dark, what is not illuminated. As such, it can also represent not just the unknown, but the hidden, and the act of concealing.
Archetypally, we often associate black with evil, as we see evil as a kind of darkness, an existence not brightened by the light of love and knowledge. Black does not correspond to any standardly recognized chakra, however the absence of light from any given chakra can be said to be blackness, in effect.
In Freemasonry, black can represent grief, can be connected to Anubis the God of Death and all that he represents, as well as carrying all of the symbolism described above. The role of black in the Masonic mosaic pavement is a central element of the Lodge, and worth pondering.
Color of blood, fire, passion, gore, and anger. We say we “see red” when we are angry beyond maintaining composure; prostitution occurs in red light districts; we give red roses to those we are in love with, and “paint the town red” when we release all inhibitions and indulge our whims and passions. It can represent anything from war and bloodshed to health and vitality.
Red is also the color of Vulcan, or Tubal-Cain (see image), descendant of Cain, progenitor of civilization. It’s also noteworthy that the name Adam is akin to the word for red, and so the mythological first human is connected to the first chakra, and the first level of the hierarchy of needs.
The red chakra is usually associated with the most basic physical needs and drives, including money, sex, and health.In Masonry, red carries an association inherited from the ancient Egyptians, that of fire, which is the regenerator and purifier of souls.
Color of autumn, dawn and dusk, and bright flames. Orange is a color which tends to elicit strong reactions from people, whether positively or negatively; as the saying goes, either you love it or you hate it. Orange conjures feelings of vibrancy and energetic overflowing, perhaps due to its association with the sun and fire. The orange chakra is associated with both personal power as well as sexual the sex drive.
Oddly, the color orange seems not to make many appearances in the Lodge. Perhaps it is lumped in with red in some cases, and yellow in others, but we can assume it carries much the same symbolism as above, when it does appear.
Color of the element of gold, the sun, sunflowers, and the happy face. Yellow is a color which has mostly positive symbolism, perhaps because of its association with gold, and is often also connected to the intellect, as well as radiance, as that of the sunflower, and happiness.
We also use it to describe cowardice, but this is virtually the only negative association. The yellow chakra has to do with the intellect, and also social aspects of life, those having to do with society at large.
Yellow appears on various regalia and aspects of the lodge, often in the form of metallic gold, and in addition to the inherent associations with the precious metal, was also the symbol of light in the ancient world. Thus, although it may not play a central role in the lodge, it nevertheless represents the goal of Light which the Mason seeks, including the radiant beams reaching out from the All-seeing Eye.
Alright, we’ve made it halfway through the spectrum, we’ll continue our review of the symbolism of colors in Part II.